Product of a Historical Moment

Superstars and cult figures are products of historical moments. Emerging at particu- lar socio-historical junctures, cult figures in cinema begin to embody much more than just the character they play. Film and Cultural studies have tried to understand the concept of stardom and iconicity as sustained by a dual engagement with the site of fictional performance and the fears and aspirations in the world outside. Helen, dancer par excellence and iconic vamp of Bombay cinema, is one such figure.

In Black and White

It is said that the Borivili National Park, cheek by jowl with Mumbai has more species of animals, birds, reptiles, and insects than the whole of Great Britain. In terms of species’ diversity India is a multi-millionaire country as compared to most of the countries of the so-called developed world. But alas, when it comes to that special breed of human being – the nature writer – we are alas hopelessly impoverished – and to mix metaphors, seem to be heading for extinction. Whereas every wild living creature in every square inch of British countryside has been photographed and written about ad nauseam we know next to nothing about the denizens that share our lives with us.

Social Art at its Best

Reading through the title and contents of the book, the scope of this recent publication on painting during the Mughal rule in the Indian subcontinent, covering a span of over 200 years indeed sounds quite sweeping. Aimed at more than a general introductory readership, this reference book gives focus to the shifting modes of the patrons’ taste and the artists’ struggle to cope with the situation. From this concern, the author has thematized eight topics serially as the chapter headings: the atelier, narrative art, portraiture, painting on natural history, margin-painting, ascriptions, identical versions and modern attributions, and the impact of renaissance art. The book has an introduction and an exhaustive bibliography, illustrations and glossary.

From the ‘Ante-natal’ Scenario to the Present

Until some years ago, there were hardly any books on the history of Hyderabad written in English by Indians, and historians and research scholars had to necessarily pour over Urdu and Persan manuscripts in the Archives Department and libraries. Then suddenly there was a spurt of them ranging from small pamphlet like booklets to lavish coffee-table publications. Narendra Luther’s first book was on Mohamed Quli, the poet-king of Golconda and the founder of Hyderabad city. This book, Hyderabad: A Biography was published first in 1998 by Orient Longman , and as the author says in his preface, was quickly sold out and there was a great demand for it. A new edition was published by Oxford University Press in 2004.

Architecture in the Evolution of a City

Lucy Peck’s guide to thousand years of concrete and mortar of Delhi provides a valuable insight into Delhi’s historical monuments. Based on secondary sources, it is not a mere mundane description of the monuments. The explanation of the buildings is accompanied by interesting anecdotes of Delhi’s past and aesthetically well shot pictures. This book is an outcome of the author’s association with Seven Cities of Delhi Group. Working with this group, Peck could explore Shahjahanabad and meet the local inhabitants. This made her conscious of the need to write differently a book on Delhi.

In the distant days when I was an under- graduate Gingi used to sound as remote and exotic as Constantinople. Since then, narratives of military encounters became increasingly unfashionable in history courses, and Gingi, like Trichinopoly and Seringa-patam, became even more distant, and appeared in a different set of incarnations, differently spelt (Senji, Thiruchirapalli and Srirangapattanam) and as tourist-destinations. There is a shelf-ful of expensively-illustrated books on Indian forts, but very few detailed studies of any one fort. The Archaeological Survey understands that these are to be listed and protected – and some, on some whim, ‘de-protected’. But historians and architects, who should back them enthusiastically, have hardly shown any interest in them.

Through the Colonial Lens

In several entertaining and insightful com- mentaries on the British Raj, Jan Morris likened much of its work to that of a development agency: building roads and railways, introducing the telegraph and later telephone as well as modern western medical practices and educational methods. Interestingly, though The Spectacle of Empire (London: Faber and Faber, 1982) is in some senses a photographic document of the various activities of the Raj, Morris does not really discuss in any great detail the role of the camera in governance. After the 1840s, while family photographs provided for a flourishing business, the ‘selling’ of India to the British population at home depended quite a bit on its visual marketability.

Nation in the Popular Imaginary

At one level this is a smartly produced coffee table book that features historic photographs of India’s birth to freedom from British rule. The pictures of India’s ‘first dynasty’ the Nehru-Gandhi family dominate the collection. As always, they are attractive to the eye and historic in the moments they capture. The reader ploughs along approvingly as they confirm to every stereotype that an average Indian has internalized about the makings of modern India. Foremost of these impressions are the iconic frames of Pandit Nehru and his family. And there is no dearth of these in the book: Nehru, his sister Vijaylakshmi Pandit, his daughter Indira with her sons Sanjay and Rajiv, rub shoulders here with his elite colleagues—Lord Mountbatten, Patel, Maulana Azad, and Jinnah. Mahatma Gandhi figures most prominently on the occasion of his death!

Translating the Granularity of Indian Society

One would have liked to use the term “Andhras” but it is not an accurate one to describe the Telugu speakers. The Andhras in the present-day social and cultural context are confined to Nellore, Prakasam, Krishna, Guntur districts. Even those who belong to East and West Godavari districts have a distinct identity of their own, while those of the northern districts of Visakha-patnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam belong to a charming cultural world of their own. Then we have those from the Rayalaseema districts of Chittoor, Anantapur, Cuddapah and Kurnool, with their open hearts and their ways of rustic violence. The people of Telengana in the districts of Hyderabad (excluding the city of Hyderabad), Medak, Nalgonda, Mahbubnagar, Karimnagar, Adilabad, Nizamabad, Warangal and Khammam are a different lot again.

In the Loka Tradition

Sanskrit narrative tradition synthesizes loka (loc-al) and shastra (scholastic or context free forms and expressions). It has been configurational, localized and ever acquiring new hues and semantic fields. Deshi (context bound forms) and margi (context free forms), in fact, have always been seen in continuity and have mutually enriched each other. In a ‘phonocentric’ tradition like that of India, narratives grow and disseminate in space and time. The two meta-narratives—Ramayana and Mahabharata—foreground this claim. Secondly, there are two major trends in Indian narratives—one is that of rati-bhakti and another shringara and kaurna (the narrative of union and of separation).

Of A Revolution in the Making

Harvest Song, an abridged and translated version of Sabitri Roy’s trilogy, Paka Dhaner Gan (1956, 1957, 1958) has been subtitled in English as a “novel of the Tebhaga movement.” The Tebhaga (sharing by thirds) movement was a militant campaign by sharecroppers, spreading over at least nineteen districts of undivided Bengal, especially the districts of Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Jessore, Khulna, Mymensingh and 24 Paraganas during the year 1946-1947. The primary demand of the sharecroppers, commonly known as the bargadars or adhiars was the scrapping of the custom of sharing the annual produce of crops between themselves and their respective zamindars or landlords on a fifty-fifty basis. Instead the share croppers campaigned for the reduction of the share appropriated by the landlords to only a third of the produce. This movement, initiated by the Bengal Provincial Krishak Sabha, the peasants’ front in Bengal of the then united Communist Party of India, was a landmark in the history of Indian Communist mobilization, and is indeed represented as such by Sabitri Roy (1918 – 1985), almost a lifelong fellow – traveller, though never a card-holding member, of the Communist Party.

A Promise Not Kept

Jogajog is perhaps Tagore’s least discussed novel, eclipsed by the political rhetoric of Gora and Ghare Baire, the romantic intensity of Chokher Bali and Shesher Kabita, and the philosophical density of Char Adhyay. Two recent translations, however, draw attention to this lacuna in Tagore scholarship: Hiten Bhaya’s translation Nexus, published by Rupa and Co., and the present translation by Supriya Chaudhuri. Chaudhuri’s Introduction is one of the strengths of this edition, for it locates the novel historically, while opening up a series of contemporary debates about subjectivity, cultural values and modes of representation.